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California Gun Control Laws

California's gun control laws are among the most restrictive in the country. They include a 10-day waiting period at the time of sale and limits on who may own a firearm. California gun laws also ban assault weapons, firearms often used in mass shootings.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an education and advocacy group, recognizes California's gun safety laws with an "A" rating.

Yet, California lawmakers must still balance efforts to end gun violence with the rights of gun owners. They must address citizens' concerns related to self-defense. In recent years, Second Amendment rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court have made this a more challenging task.

Federal Firearms Law

Although states play a larger role in regulating firearms day-to-day, there are federal laws on firearms that apply nationwide.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) oversees the issuance of federal firearms licenses. The ATF falls under the U.S. Department of Justice. It issues firearms regulations and investigates federal license-holders. It is also a law enforcement agency, bringing illegal gun traffickers and career criminals to justice.

Federal laws ban or limit the possession of certain dangerous weapons. For decades, they have blocked certain prohibited persons, like convicted felons and illegal drug abusers, from owning guns.

California Gun Control Laws

The State of California has a comprehensive array of gun laws that seek to ban the illegal use and possession of firearms. A succession of state officeholders in California have adopted policies focused on reducing gun violence. For example, California Attorney General Rob Bonta created an Office of Gun Violence Prevention in his office to coordinate state efforts to improve public safety and reduce gun-related injuries and deaths.

Regulations on Gun Purchases and Sales

California requires a gun buyer to get a firearm safety certificate (FSC) to buy a firearm. Criteria for the FSC include passing a written exam administered by a certified instructor with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and being at least 18 years of age. The law exempts concealed weapon (CCW) license holders and law enforcement officers from this rule.

Only licensed gun dealers can sell firearms at retail. During firearm purchases, the buyer must provide personal information for the Dealers' Record of Sale (DROS), a document that the California DOJ will keep. There is a 10-day waiting period between sale and delivery while a background check happens. If necessary, the California DOJ can delay delivery for as long as a 30-day period if it can't determine the buyer's eligibility within the initial 10 days.

A licensed firearms dealer can't deliver a gun unless the buyer or transferee performs a safe-handling demonstration in the presence of a certified instructor. The demonstration will vary based on the type of handgun or long gun at issue.

California has also strengthened its regulations related to sales of firearms at gun shows. Gun show organizers must get a certificate of eligibility from the DOJ. Sales of firearms and ammunition at such events must follow California laws related to gun purchases and sales, including subjecting the buyer to a criminal background check.

California has laws that ban categories of people from possessing or buying guns. These include laws that ban convicted felons, those addicted to drugs, those convicted of certain domestic violence crimes, and others from possession of a firearm.

Carrying Concealed Weapons License

Unlike states that have adopted so-called "permitless carry" laws, California requires those who want to carry a concealed handgun to get a license or permit.

To qualify for a concealed carry permit, you must show proof of identity and that you are 21 or older. You must not be a disqualified person under state or federal law. You must be a California resident. You must show you are the owner of the firearm the permit will cover, providing information on the weapon, your driver's license, and personal details. License-holders must also show proof they completed an approved firearms safety course.

Once you have a concealed handgun permit, California law places restrictions on public places where you can carry or have the weapon. In a new law signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2023, the state seeks to ban guns in 26 different public locations. Included in the list are common "sensitive" locations like police departments, airports, jails, schools, and the state capitol in Sacramento. The law also bans guns in hospitals, parks, libraries, zoos, playgrounds, and youth centers. A legal challenge has prevented much of the law from taking effect for now.

In light of the amount of filmmaking in California, the state also has a special entertainment firearms permit available to those 21 and older. Several firearm regulations may get waived with this permit. The entertainment permit will last for up to one year.

Assault Weapons and Magazine Capacity Restrictions

California bans several dangerous weapons, including assault weapons, 50-caliber rifles, undetectable firearms, and accessories like large-capacity magazines and bump stocks. There are limited exceptions in these laws related to members of the armed forces, law enforcement, and others.

The California Penal Code provides a full list of the assault weapons at issue. They may be specific firearms (identified by make and model) or firearms (such as semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns) that have features commonly found in assault weapons.

Safe Storage and Motor Vehicle Regulations

California has several gun laws focused on the safe storage of firearms. The purpose behind such laws includes preventing children (under 18) or prohibiting people from accessing guns.

Criminal penalties may apply to anyone who negligently stores or leaves a firearm in a place where it's likely a child will gain access to the gun without a parent's permission. If the child takes the firearm and causes physical harm to self or others, the potential consequences increase. Similar storage laws apply when the person who gains access is a person that the gun owner knows is prohibited from possessing firearms.

These criminal storage laws will not apply in certain cases, including where the child accesses the gun through an illegal entry or the owner has placed the gun in a locked container or secure location.

California has detailed laws related to the transportation of firearms. Pursuant to California law, anyone over 18 can transport concealable firearms in a motor vehicle as long as they are unloaded and either in a locked container or the vehicle's trunk. Long guns like rifles and shotguns can be in a motor vehicle as long as they are unloaded.

Overview of California Gun Control Laws

Gun laws vary significantly from state to state. Make sure you study the law in California before buying a firearm because a violation of the state's gun laws can lead to felony charges. The table below summarizes the main gun regulations in California.


Relevant statutes (laws)

California Penal Code

Part 1, Of Crimes and Punishments

Title 7, Of Crimes Against Public Justice

  • Section 171b — Unauthorized of weapons in state or local public buildings or at government meeting
  • Section 171c — Loaded firearms; bringing into the state capitol
  • Section 171d — Firearms; bringing into or possession at the governor's mansion
  • Section 171.5 — Airports and passenger vessel terminals; prohibited items
  • Section 171.7 — Possession of prohibited items in a public transit facility

Title 15, Miscellaneous Crimes

Part 6, Control of Deadly Weapons — Sections 16000 - 34400

Title 1, Preliminary Provisions

Title 2, Weapons Generally

  • Section 17512 — Permitting a person to carry or bring a firearm into a motor vehicle
  • Section 18170 — Standing to file for gun violence restraining order
  • Section 18175 — Evidence; burden of proof; duration

Title 3, Weapons and Devices Other Than Firearms

  • Section 20150 — Unlawful change, alteration, removal, or obliteration of coloration and markings
  • Section 20170 — Unlawful display or exposure of imitation firearm in public place

Title 4, Firearms

  • Section 23635 — Inclusion or accompaniment of firearm safety device; exemption
  • Section 23920 — Purchase, sale, possession, or transfer of an unmarked firearm or invalid serial number or mark of identification prohibited
  • Section 24610 — Manufacture, import, sale, supply or possession of undetectable firearm; punishment
  • Section 25100 — Criminal storage of firearm accessible to child; elements of the crime
  • Section 25200 — Storage of firearms accessed by children or prohibited persons and carried off premises
  • Section 25400 — Carrying a concealed firearm
  • Section 25850 — Carrying a loaded firearm in public
  • Section 26150 — Application for license (or renewal of license) to carry a concealed weapon
  • Section 26165 — Course of training requirements for licensees
  • Section 26202 — Disqualified persons
  • Section 26230 — Places where carrying a firearm is prohibited
  • Section 26500 — License required to sell, lease, or transfer firearms
  • Section 27500 — Sale or delivery of a firearm to persons in prohibited classes
  • Section 29610 — Minors; possession of handgun, semi-automatic centrefire rifle, firearms prohibited
  • Section 29800 — Specified convictions or outstanding warrants
  • Section 29805 — Specified convictions or outstanding warrants
  • Section 30605 — Possession of assault weapons
  • Section 30610 — Possession of .50 BMG Rifle
  • Section 32310 — Prohibition on Large-Capacity Magazines
  • Section 32625 — Unauthorized possession of machine gun
Illegal arms and accessories

With limited exceptions, you can't have any of the following arms or accessories in California:

  • Assault weapons (see Section 30510 and Section 30515 for specific definitions)
  • .50 BMG rifles
  • Containers that camouflage firearms
  • Machine guns
  • Short-barreled shotgun or rifle (i.e., a barrel of less than 18 inches for a shotgun, less than 16 inches for a rifle, or less than 26 inches designed to fire a fixed shotgun shell or cartridge)
  • Multi-burst trigger activator (includes bump stocks)
  • Any undetectable firearm or firearm not immediately recognizable
  • Cane guns
  • Wallet guns
  • Zip guns
  • Large capacity magazines (capable of accepting more than 10 rounds)
  • Silencers
  • Body armor (if disqualified from possessing firearms)
  • Armor-piercing ammunition
  • Ammunition that contains a flechette dart
  • Bullets containing an explosive agent
Waiting period There is a 10-day waiting period to buy a firearm in California.
Who may not own firearms or ammunition

California imposes a ban on having or buying firearms or ammunition that includes the following:

  • Those with any felony conviction
  • Those addicted to the use of any narcotic drug
  • Those with certain misdemeanor convictions, including domestic violence
  • Anyone subject to an outstanding warrant for an offense set forth in state laws on firearm prohibitions
  • Any person who is subject to a restraining order, a protective order, or an injunction, including gun violence restraining orders
  • Any person found to be a danger to self or others due to mental illness
  • Any person found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of insanity for any crime
  • Any person adjudicated to be a mentally disordered sex offender
  • Anyone convicted of or under indictment for a crime punishable by over one year in prison
  • Those discharged by the military under dishonorable conditions
  • Any person who is an illegal alien
  • Any person who has renounced their U.S. citizenship
  • Any person who is a fugitive from justice

In certain cases, the conviction subjects a person to a limited ban, such as a 10-year ban or a five-year ban.

The California DOJ provides a comprehensive list explaining these prohibitions.

License required? Yes. You need a firearm safety certificate to buy a gun in California.
Concealed carry license required? Yes. You need a concealed carry weapons (CCW) license or permit to carry a concealed firearm.
Open carry allowed? California bans open carry with a few narrow exceptions for residents in less-populated counties.

Eligibility for a concealed carry license

To get a concealed carry license, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be at least 21
  • You must pass a background check
  • You must complete a 16-hour approved firearms training course that includes instruction on California firearms laws and gun safety and involves live-fire exercises
  • You must meet the state residency requirements
  • You must be the recorded owner of the firearm for which you seek the permit
  • You must not be a disqualified person under California law

Reasons for disqualification and discussion of other important matters appear in the text of the application itself (BOF 4012).

Machine gun laws It is illegal to own a machine gun in California unless you have a permit from the California Department of Justice and also follow federal law.

Penalties for illegal firearm possession

The following penalties may apply if you illegally have a firearm:

  • Possession of a firearm with a felony conviction — felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both
  • Possession of a firearm when addicted to a narcotic drug — felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Possession of an assault weapon can get charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. If charged as a felony, it would be punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Sale or delivery of a firearm to a prohibited person — felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Penalties for illegal possession on or near school grounds Possessing a firearm in a school zone (within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school that enrolls students in grades K-12) is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Red Flag law? Yes. California enacted the nation's first such law in 2014 and has amended it. Under the law, several people can petition the court, including family members, law enforcement, school personnel, and co-workers. If the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that a person poses a significant risk of harm to self or others by having access to firearms, it can issue a gun violence restraining order. These can order the removal of firearms and bar the purchase or possession of firearms for up to five years.
Universal background checks? Yes. With very few exceptions, California law requires all firearm purchases, sales, and transfers to go through a licensed gun dealer where a background check will take place.
Stand Your Ground law? There is no Stand Your Ground law on the books. But courts interpreting self-defense law in California have said there is no duty to retreat. If confronted by imminent danger of serious bodily harm, a person can respond with reasonable force necessary to repel the attack.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.

Court Challenges After Bruen Case

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022), the U.S. Supreme Court upended years of precedent related to firearm regulations and the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The Court struck down a New York state gun license law, finding it overly burdened the rights of gun owners.

The majority of the justices found that courts must use a new "historical test" when they review gun regulations that infringe on the right to bear arms. For a government's public safety basis to uphold such a law, the government must show the regulation is consistent with laws at the time the Second Amendment was adopted.

This new standard in Bruen has led to many more legal challenges to state gun laws. As a result, judicial rulings involving federal judges in California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have gone back and forth.

Litigation remains pending in cases questioning California's prohibition on guns in certain public places and its ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Also awaiting final court decisions are California laws limiting possession of firearms to those under 21 and requiring background checks for purchases of ammunition.

Research the Law

California Gun Control Laws: Related Resources

California Punishes Gun Crimes Severely: Don't Wait to Consult an Attorney

If you find yourself charged with any gun control violation in California, you need legal advice. If you have a California concealed firearm license, you may have questions on what laws apply to you. An experienced California criminal defense attorney can answer your questions and help you with the legal process.

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